You don't have to read far in Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince to realize that while this 16th century political thinker advocated overthrowing systems and governments in order to maintain power and to achieve a desired goal, he recognized the risk inherent in all change. That realization prompted Machiavelli to state, "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
Machiavelli understood one of the foundational concepts of effective critical thinking: All problems are the result of change, but all changes do not have to create problems. Whenever you introduce change--however beneficial or positive the change may be--you open up the opportunity for problems to develop.
Without debating the merits or perils of Machiavelli's approach to gaining and maintaining political power, his philosophy does provide an important perspective in the world of critical thinking. Whether you are looking at software development process, a manufacturing line, a non-profit organization run by volunteers, or a political dynasty under the shadow of a controlling leader--whenever a problem arises you will more quickly determine the cause if you ask yourself and others involved, "What changed?"
Any variation in performance, production, or outcome tells you something changed. Identify the change and you are on your way toward determining the root cause of the deviation or difference. Regretfully, many managers rush toward finding a solution for a performance variation without pausing and asking this critical question--"What changed?"
Machiavelli knew that "one change always opens the way for the establishment of others" so he protected himself from the perils of change through ruthless, calculating, state-focused control, teaching that "it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved." While this philosopher's approach to life and business is certainly open for debate and disagreement, his recognition of how much change affects performance is applicable in any organization.